Wednesday, December 28, 2011

End of Year Top 10 Guff - 2011

I know a lot of people decry these things, and most of us are worn out by the concept by the time the clock hits 11:59pm on December 31st, wherever in the world you may reside. Here in Japan we get there way earlier than North America or Europe, but a couple of hours behind Australia, so over all we're pretty fortunate.

Funnily enough I just stumbled across an old one I did at the end of 2009 (here), so it's interesting - or p'raps not - to compare and contrast.

Anyway, things Japanese again take precedence since that's the subject this unruly blog is supposed to relate to, and I live in Tokyo; however, I have other interests (I'm a music journalist, a hack DJ/producer, and this year I published my first novel, Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat), so I'm going to throw a few more things into the mix.

If 2011 in Japan was a movie, we’d probably find it far-fetched fodder.

This year we’ve had multiple earthquakes including a doozie that hit the 9.0 mark back in March – and thereby triggered huge tsunami that overcame concrete tsunami walls and carried about houses like they were made of tin foil. Around 20,000 people died.

We’ve experienced typhoons that killed hundreds more and created mudslides that destroyed villages. Then there’s been the ongoing nuclear disaster at Fukushima Daiichi, radiation in the food supply and radioactive hotspots in Tokyo, revolving door government ministers, and hints of possible future economic meltdown.

The trouble is that this has been the reality, not some movie pushed through by Toho. In comparison, the movie and telly industry this year in Japan quite simply pales.

It’s been an eventful year in other ways as well.

In July we lost Sakyo Komatsu, author of the novel Japan Sinks – to natural causes at age 80 rather than in any great disaster – and manga artist Kei Aoyama died far too young at the age of 32 in October. Last February Tura Luna Pascual Yamaguchi, better known as Tura Satana of Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965), passed away.

Contrary to Internet rumours, however, neither Satoshi Tajiri (the creator of Pokémon) nor Masashi Kishimoto (creator of Naruto) passed away at all.

The spate of scuttlebutt that followed hot on the heels of the March 11 tsunami included one that Hello Kitty creator Yuko Shimizu was also a victim. Again – not true.
And as rather spiteful Twittering has proved false, we do get to see beyond the general sense of doom, gloom and mayhem that’s prevailed here this year. Things are still happening, and creators like Tajiri, Kishimoto and Shimuzu are still alive and operating - even if I'm not the biggest fan of their stuff.

I doubt that the disasters this year affected the downward slide that anime has suffered over the past few years.

While studios such as Production I.G, Bones and Madhouse are still producing the goods – if on a more subdued level – others like Studio Ghibli appear to be on the wane. There are still anime gems to be found on TV here (even if I struggled with a Top 5 list) and the occasional big screen feature movie, but there’s been no imaginative smash hit like Spirited Away or Summer Wars since, well, Summer Wars in 2009.

That said, my mates at Madman Entertainment in Australia released the English language version of Summer Wars earlier this year, and if you haven't indulged yet, you should.

Meanwhile Production I.G has hardly been asleep at the wheel. Earlier this year they released a brilliant mini-feature anime called Drawer Hobs (Tansuwarashi in Japanese) that’s doing the international film festival circuit instead right now. What it lacks in the action quotient the story more than makes up for with a playful sense of humour and a refreshing, quirky and whimsical look at contemporary life in Tokyo – disasters be damned.

Director Kazuchika Kise has credits that include the two Patlabor movies helmed by Mamoru Oshii, along with Oshii’s more famous Ghost in the Shell and Innocence. Kise was also involved in the production of Blood: The Last Vampire, Musashi: The Dream of the Last Samurai, and all the xxxHOLiC animated adaptations.

Another I.G offering also doing the film festival merry-go-round is A Letter to Momo, a hands-on creation by Hiroyuki Okiura (he also handled the script and storyboarding).

Regular readers of this rambling blog might connect the dots: Okiura directed the fantastic action anime Jin-Roh – The Wolf Brigade (1998). This latest baby took seven years to finish, and anime production masters involved include Masahi Ando (Spirited Away), Takeshi Honda (Evangelion: 2.22 You Can (Not) Advance), Hiroyuki Aoyama (Summer Wars), and Hiroshi Ono (Kiki's Delivery Service).

I.G’s Blood-C was easily the best animated thing on TV this year, although it was almost equaled by the resurgent studio Bones in October with the debut of Un-Go, directed by Seiji Mizushima (Fullmetal Alchemist).

Not only did I publish my own novel this year, but I got right back into the swing of reading as well - probably to start with to help save on electricity after all the nuclear reactors were switched off around the country.

While I dug out old faves like Raymond Chandler, Kristopher Young, Dashiell Hammett, Haruki Murakami, Joseph Heller, Philip K. Dick, Ryu Murakami, James Ellroy and Yasunari Kawabata, I also got to explore the terrain of some newer cats like Kristopher Young, Steve Mosby, Molly Gaudry, Guy Salvidge, Urban Waite, Shuichi Yoshida, Tony Black, Allan Guthrie, Grant Jerkins, Justin Nicholes, Josh Stallings, Marcus Zusak, Nigel Bird, Paul D. Brazill, Gordon Highland, Heath Lowrance and Yuko Matsumoto. There were some great reads tucked away on trains here in Tokyo over the past twelves months; thanks to all of these people for keeping me inspired and/or marginally sane.

I'm currently about 120 pages into my next novel, titled One Hundred Years of Vicissitude, and fingers crossed it pans out reasonably well in 2012.

The reception to Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat was bloody brilliant, thanks in large part to fellow bloggers Elizabeth A. White, Marcus Baumgart, Jacob @ Drying Ink, Tony Pacitti @ Forces Of Geek, and Guy Salvidge @ Australian Speculative Fiction in Focus. Thanks for the other sweet reviews, too, from Verbicide, SF Book Reviews, Farrago, Amber, Jody, Gordon, Jessica, Colin, Jane and M. L. Sawyer. Some of these are here.

I also have to thank my publishers, Another Sky Press, for making the dream-thing come true, as well as every single person who's bothered to read the wayward tome. Ta, mates!

Music-wise, I still adore my electronic/leftfield techno stuff, and there were some amazing slabs of vinyl from Slidebar in Germany including a new one, Behind Moisture Crack, with Cristian Vogel, Bill Youngman, Tobias Schmidt (and me - shhh), and the latest outing from Neil Landstrumm. I also had the absolute privilege of remixing Detroit legends Aux 88 - alongside Gez Varley from LFO - on the Black Tokyo Remix Sessions 2 12-inch.

Elektrax in Sydney is continuing to do amazing things under the helm of the very talented and prolific DJ Hi-Shock (the Lucy remix of Ground Loop's Ampersand was one of my tracks of the year). Sebastian Bayne is doing a great job running IF? Records - well, he did release my latest Little Nobody album Hard Foiled, plus an EP (Linoleum Actress) with remixes by himself, and the great Justin Robertson and Paul Birken - plus there's great stuff from Seb himself, Enclave, Mike Holmes, etc.

Hats off to my mate Shinji Tokida who runs Plaza In Crowd here in Japan, for releasing the Commix CD of my stuff, remixed by the likes of Shin Nishimura, DJ Wada, Mijk van Dijk, Dave Tarrida, James Ruskin, Luke's Anger, Dave Angel, Justin Berkovi, Ben Pest, etc.

Finally, rounding out a crazy year in too many respects, Auricular Records in the USA got out my most recent release. Titled From the Back of the Fridge, they say it's "A retrospective/archival collection of the works of Andrez Bergen. Packaged in a futuristic resealable silver bag. Features a 30-page full color book spanning almost 14 years of the musical career of Andrez as he passes through his many incarnations as DJ, producer, author and family man. The book is a colorful collection of art, photos, adventures, and insights accompanied by enlightening text bits by Andrez himself. Also included with this package is a 2 disc collection of audio, remixes, and videos."

It's also only $25. Go figure.

Anyway, enough self-indulgent waffling! I tacked on some inane year-end Top 5 lists for you to sink your teeth into, but most of all... happy new year!!


1. Drawer Hobs (d. Kazuchika Kise)
2. Macross Frontier – Sayonara no Tsubasa (d. Shoji Kawamori)
3. A Letter to Momo (d. Hiroyuki Okiura)
4. Broken Blade: Bastions of Sorrow (d. Tetsuro Amino)
5. Doraemon: Nobita and the New Steel Troops – Angel Wings (d. Yukiyo Teramoto)


1. Blood-C (Production I.G)
2. Un-Go (Bones)
3. Suite PreCure♪ (Toei)
4. Usagi Drop (Production I.G)
5. No. 6 (Bones)


1. The Detective is in the Bar (d. Hajime Hashimoto)
2. Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai (d. Takashi Miike)
3. Once in a Blue Moon (d. Koki Mitani)
4. Karate-Robo Zaborgar (d. Noboru Iguchi)
5. Tormented (d. Takashi Shimizu)

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Odd Bedfellows on a Plate

If you grew up in the 1960s or ‘70s you’d probably remember a kids’ book by Dr. Seuss titled One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.

Alternatively, if you’re a child of the ‘90s you may recall an episode of The Simpsons titled “One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish”.

It’s the episode in which Bart Simpson and family make a visit to a new sushi bar called The Happy Sumo, and Homer demands fugu while the chef is out canoodling Edna Krabappel on the backseat of her car.

Cue assistant chef’s stressful splicing and dicing of the deflating delicacy.

For those who may have missed this cartoon, fugu is the Japanese name for blowfish or pufferfish of the Tetraodontidae family, the majority of which have extremely high levels of a neurotoxin called tetrodotoxin in their ovaries, liver, intestines, gonads and skin.

The Encyclopædia Britannica has labeled fugu the second most-poisonous vertebrate in the world and there is no antidote to the poison – a fact that doesn’t seem to faze Japanese consumers, however, since some 10,000 tons are eaten here each year.

When I first arrived in Japan in 2001 I really had no choice but to play Homer Simpson and indulge in the expensive dish, which can cost anywhere between ¥4,000 (US$50) and ¥20,000 (US$250) depending upon the restaurant, the quality of the serving, the size, and the kind of dish.

The most common way to have fugu is sashimi-style, sliced exceptionally thin and raw and served with a special dipping sauce called ponzu (a canny blend of citrus juice and soy sauce). Each piece is almost transparent and the texture softer than most other fish. The impression is that it discreetly dissolves in your mouth.

The delicacy is also deep fried or conjured up in a nabe (hot pot), and often combined with fugu hirezake: Toasted fugu fin served in hot sake. It smells a wee bit fishy, but has quite the celebratory kick to it.

You can usually tell the fugu eateries by the huge storefront tanks full of the fish: Swimming, carousing, looking a little the worse-for-wear, and occasionally floating listlessly upside down.

The allusion of those bottom-up types runs a little close to home when it comes to fugu.

Both in fiction and reality the fish has had a huge impact on the culture of this country and fugu is quite often lauded in traditional haiku. While its price sets the dish up as the foodstuff of kings (but not the emperor, who is not allowed to partake), many Japanese office workers with big annual bonuses aspire to tuck into the marine delight.

Even so there is a hint of the morbid and fatalistic involved. Fugu, while outrageously priced, could be viewed as the Russian roulette of the wining and dining set – and mortality is, after all, the great leveler.


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Smile Precure!

Well, it was bound to happen - Toei does it around February every year, and this will be the ninth time in succession.

I'm talking up the Precure anime, which I'll admit to having watched every Sunday morning with my daughter Cocoa for over two years now (her excuse is she's just turned six; I'm not sure what mine happens to be).

Every February Toei, the anime production house behind the series, revamps the cast and crew and reimagines the series.

In 2010 the best series screened - HeartCatch Precure, which was, in fact, my choice of anime series of the year for 2010 (something difficult to swallow since it's a shojo girls' show aimed at little kids) - and this year Suite Precure♪ has struggled to hang onto the coattails of its predecessor but isn't doing so badly now that characters Beat and Muse have jumped into the fray.

Anyway, the new line-up has just been announced, along with the customary annual name-change.

2012 will see Smile Precure! (スマイルプリキュア) hit the screens, replacing Suite Precure♪. The character designs do look cute, while still not in the same league as Yoshihiko Umakoshi's designs for HeartCatch Precure.

Well, as with all things Precure, only time will tell. And what else do I want to do every Sunday morning anyway?